The big three time wasters in business are emails, meetings and white tape, companies’ internal bureaucracies. All three aren’t new to most; however, what might be new is their severity. The problem isn’t just pain and suffering – our complaining. It’s also hard attacks on productivity.
For instance, McKinsey found people spending 20% of their time reading and writing emails. Highly skilled office workers can spend over 25%. Since 1970, the number of external communications managers receive have increased from 1,000 a year to 30,000 a year today. Moreover, initial research shows senior managers’ emailing habits drive those of their firms.
Continuing, Bain & Company found managers spending 15% of their time in meetings, increasing every year since 2008. Senior executives spend 40%. Among meetings, videoconferences can be the most inefficient especially as the ratio of attendees to presenters increases. Excessive collaboration contributes too to a meeting-happy culture.
Finally, white tape refers to all the documentation and reporting necessary to accomplish things; keeping score is more important than scoring. Twenty percent of people’s time is spent delivering information that the requester already knows. Adding a front-line manager creates enough additional work for 1.3 people, adding a senior executive creates work for 4.2 people. Beyond their own work, they create work for others and for assistants that support their work. We more commonly experience this as “empire building.”
“Decluttering the Company” (The Economist, August 2, 2014 edition) excellently summarizes and elaborates on all three. Yet, the challenge is overcoming our emotional biases to curtail these. For example, our emails help us feel important. Commanding the time of others feeds emotional requirements. Extraversion encourages interactions.
Ironically, technology was to free us from these. In reality, it gave us more time to answer more emails, attend more meetings and to document more activities.